Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 148:591 (Jul 91) p. 356
“The Hands That Would Shape Our Souls,” Paul Wilkes, Atlantic Monthly, December 1990, pp. 59-62, 64–66, 70–72, 74–75, 78–81, 84, 86–88.
Seminaries, according to Wilkes, have “squandered a legacy, and in their hearts they nurse the fear that perhaps it has been lost forever” (p. 59). Over 200 seminaries exist in the United States today and the enrollment at schools affiliated with the Association of Theological Schools represents about 56,000 students with women making up more than one-third of the total. Wilkes claims that these institutions, whether radical, liberal, or fundamentalist, have a common mandate: “to provide the people who will pick up the pieces left by the past three decades” (p. 60).
Throughout the article he asks whether today’s seminarians will be able to handle the moral and spiritual morass they face in the 1990s. He asks if they are “an indicator species—endangered, fragile, sterile—signaling finally and decisively the end of religion in America as a personal and public force” (p. 60). Wilkes says academic standards have declined considerably and seminaries no longer attract the quality students they did several decades ago. He reports, “Smaller Protestant seminaries, pressed for money and needing to maintain a certain student-body size to remain solvent, have resorted to taking virtually anyone able to pay. In part for this reason such schools find themselves tailoring their curricula to fit what they think the students will agree to study—a technique not unknown to secular colleges—rather than what they think those students will need to be effective clergywomen and clergymen” (p. 61).
Wilkes gives considerably more press to Roman Catholic seminaries and is distressed by what he finds. “Owing to the crushing shortage of manpower, if a man is bent on becoming a priest and is not too educationally unfit, psychologically aberrant, or flagrantly homosexual, he can usually find a diocese that will sponsor him and a seminary that will accept him” (p. 62).
BSac 148:591 (Jul 91) p. 357
Perhaps 10,000 American priests have left the priesthood since Vatican II and at the seminary level the number of students is down from 8,000 to fewer than 4,000 since 1968.
Wilkes was told that many seminary students today do not respond to a classic call to ministry. Rather “they are in a seminary not always because they have found God but because they have decided to search for Him” (p. 70). Yet “spirituality” is now more popular than theology.
Has Wilkes examined evangelical institutions in this inquiry? He cites two he calls “progressive evangelical schools”—Southwestern Baptist Theol...
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